Steve Smith - Guitar Mad Lad
The year is 1949. The town is
Bolton, Lancashire. I was squeezed into the world on 2nd January. In my
short trousered years I didn't know about 'blues', but I fondly remember
my parents old 78's of George Formby ('When I'm Cleaning Windows' et al)
and my particular favourite - Phil Harris and the 'Dark Town Poker
Club'. With my two elder brothers we systematically reduced the 78's to
plant pots by immersing them in hot water.
Jerry Lee Lewis was a
particular favourite in the late 50's - he sounded so wild - and I also
remember clearly at this time listening to Cliff Richard and his 'Living
Doll' on the radio whilst with a group of lads in a local park.
Early Embryonic Blues
(1960 - 1970)
In the early 60's, The
Shadows broke onto the music scene and subsequently had a major
influence on my music taste. The guitar had arrived in my life. A few
years later, my eldest brother brought home a Bo Diddley LP (the one
with Bo sat on his scooter) - I wasn't impressed with the weird sounding
music. Hank Marvin still reigned supreme.
Then in '64, I returned home
from a school trip in the Lake District and had my ears assaulted by the
Rolling Stones first LP. Wow! I liked it - I liked it a lot. I then
followed a similar route that quite a few teenagers took during this
time - discovering Muddy, Bo, Willie Dixon etc from this one record.
Saturday mornings were spent scouring the record shops in Bolton, with
one of my brothers purchasing the latest blues offerings on the Marble
Arch label at 10s 6d a slab - a real bargain buy as LP's generally at
this time were 32s 6d. The first blues boom was well under way and I was
hooked. The Pretty Things always seemed more menacing than the Stones
(and better), the lyrics to the Beat Merchants 'Pretty Face' were
memorised and the Bo Street Runners made an all too brief impression on
The Folk Blues Festivals had
also arrived, and I remember the '63 Festival being shown on tv in the
mid 60's and watched sitting hushed and spellbound whilst the sound of
the show was recorded on my brothers reel to reel recorder. The Lonnie
Johnson track is still a particular favourite of mine - and I can watch
the full show now as it has been recently issued on DVD. A magic memory.
In the late 60's, Hendrix had
truly arrived, Cream were disbanding, the guitar sound had got louder
and Muddy and the Wolf went 'electric'. I was (and still am) a big fan
of the 'Electric Mud' LP - it seemed to move the music forward - and
still think the Wolf's electric re-make of 'Smokestack Lighting' a gem.
Blues is my favourite
It wasn't long before heavy
rock, with it's blues based beat, held my attention. I remember at
college, the other music devotees looking at me disbelievingly when I
mentioned that Zep's 'A Whole Lotta Love' was actually a Muddy Waters
record from the early 60's (it was in my ever expanding record
collection!) The Groundhogs, Rory Gallagher and Robin Trower were early
concert favourites at the heavy end. A Chuck Berry gig in Manchester in
'75 was a farce - he walked off stage after 20mins following an
altercation with some 'fans'. Record shops in Manchester (and there were
plenty) were regularly plundered at this time - and I was buying
predominantly blues vinyl - Robert Jr Lockwood, Otis Spann, Muddy, Wolf,
Walter, Buddy, Robert Nighthawk .....and a brilliant Charlie Sayles
import on the Dusty Road label.
Heavy rock turned into heavy
metal and my guitar record collection just got bigger as the music got
louder and gig calendar got busier - Mojo Buford, Louisiana Red, Iron
Maiden, Lazy Lester, Judas Priest, Eddie Kirkland, ZZ Top, John Lee
Hooker........ Since then things haven't changed too much - blues
music still has peaks and troughs - and I still go to (mostly) blues
gigs regularly as this is the medium that I like best. Seeing artists
ply their trade 'live' is much better than the sterile environment of my
living room. In future, you might just see me at a gig near you - nearly
always front and centre soaking up the atmosphere.
To finish - everybody (I
think) likes lists. So here is my list of top ten guitar players (in no
particular order and not all blues) based on pure playing ability ( I
also have a completely different list of most entertaining guitarists!).
Luckily some of these guys below are still around today.
1. Lonnie Johnson
2. Hank Marvin
3. Jimmy Page
4. Popa Chubby
5. Joe Satriani
6. Jimi Hendrix
7. Preston Reed
8. Freddie King
9. John Mc Loughlin
10. T. Bone Walker
Blues Memories List
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2009 Steve Smith.
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